Tarapoto – The Tropical Paradise that Will Make You Feel Alive 

The Peruvian Amazonian jungle is a travel dream of many. It is quite something to experience. Except for the tribal communities and various rituals, you may enjoy pleasant climate, welcoming people, coconut water for 2 soles, great fruits and veggies, beautiful natural sceneries, waterfalls, lagoons, and easy-going laid-back lifestyle that will make you forget the world is going through a pandemic.

You can easily fly to all the three most famous Peruvian “jungle cities”: Pucallpa, Iquitos, Tarapoto, but there are buses too. If you really want to get into the deep jungle, you will need to continue in a boat; e.g. close to Iquitos there is the famous national reserve of Pacaya Samiria.

Tarapoto, known as the “City of Palms”, located in the District of San Martín, is allegedly among the top five safest towns in Peru. In my own experience it proved to be so. I had no trouble walking around at night solo or hitchhiking from one waterfall or another (or from the falls back to the city). It is one of those places that I would recommend for the first contact with the Peruvian jungle as it is undemanding, with good infrastructure, offering an atmosphere of peace, relaxation, safety and purity (zero air or water pollution as industries are minor in the area). The people in Tarapoto and neighbouring towns are welcoming and warm-hearted, shining with good humour. They like to talk to foreigners, asking them where they are from, what languages they speak and if they like Peruvian cuisine. Their accent is easy to understand and the curvy intonation, almost as if they are singing, is typical for their talk.

Towns Worth Visiting near Tarapoto

Chachapoyas: See my article HERE.

Rioja: 4,5 hours from Chachapoyas by car; well-known for:

  1. Alta Mayo, an area of protected forest with wetlands, streams, and a portion of the tropical yungas forestin the upper Mayo River basin
  2. Yacumama Tourist Center where you can actively interact with various jungle animals; the place is named after the legendary enormous serpent of the Amazonian jungle (Yacumama stands for “Mother of water”)
  3. The Tourist Center of Tio Yacu River

Moyobamba: 0,5 hour from Rioja by car: the capital of San Martín region, known for:

  1. Alta Mayo – easily reachable from here too
  2. Orchids
  3. Tahuisco Viewpoint
  4. San Mateo Thermals
  5. Oromina Sulfur Baths

Chazuta: 1 hour by car from Tarapoto; renowned for its ceramics, a zone of chocolate fields and chocolate production – just like Tarapoto itself or the town of Lamas. To go there from Tarapoto, you simply take a colectivo van from El Paradero a Chazuta (any moto will take you to the station for max. 5 soles).

 

Lamas

A quaint little town renowned for its community – it seems that everyone there dedicates themselves to some kind of artisanal crafts, be it bead-work, pottery, hand-weaving, artisanal textiles and clothes, chocolate etc.

To go there, take a colectivo van from El Paradero a Lamas (10 soles one way). Visit the shops and the craft boutique center at the square where the van drops you off, just below the popular Castillo de Lamas, which is in fact a private house built recently (I believe in 2005 or 2006) by an Italian man who simply copied the medieval style in a place with some truly good views. As I don´t like fakes, I did not go in, but you would be surprised how many do. The entrance is inexpensive and it takes you a quarter of an hour allegedly to see the parts with public access. There is a chocolateria in the courtyard.

To get a beautiful view over Lamas, go to the official El Mirador de Lamas, which is accessible for free, simply get a moto to drive you there.

There are some cute waterfalls around Lamas too; the locals will be recommending you various ones, but always check on Google if you really find them interesting, as some are hard to truly swim in such as Chapawanki very popular amongst the locals.

My favourite was Santa Flor, a small waterfall with a natural pool created on a stream that runs through a private property, a private field with a farm where they make Pisco from sugarcane and where there are horses and cows. The very kind owner generally lets people open the gate to his field and go to the waterfall with no problems and without charging anything. He might even show you around if he has time. The truth is though that without a local willing to show you around, you probably won´t be able to find this place. We were lucky enough that our moto taxi driver John swiftly became our friend and decided to stop working for the day and just enjoy his time while driving us around merely for the price of petrol.

 

Where to Eat and Stay in Tarapoto Town

There are various good restaurants (even vegetarian ones) in Tarapoto. I enjoyed Rico´s right by the main square of Plaza de Armas and their lasagnes which could easily feed two. Make sure to try some of their fresh juices such as that of camu camu. To get a dessert after, walk a few blocks to Frutaletas artisanal fruit chupetes where you can choose your favourite “jungle flavour” just for 5 soles and eat it in or take it away.

Another cool restaurant is Café d´ Mundo or La Patarashca (I like the street where it is located, Jr. San Pablo de la Cruz, it is probably the nicest one in the centre) which is also a hospedaje, but I would recommend you to stay away from the city centre, in the greenery of Villa Autonoma park which is a tranquil part of Tarapoto in the middle of a forest, by a river, surrounded by hills where you can enjoy some simple trekking, e.g. to Taytamaki viewpoint (1 hour) or further up to Mirador Wayra or El Gavilan.

Another interesting place to walk to from Villa Autonoma is Centro Urku, a non-profit organization which shelters various jungle animals. The entrance is 10 soles and is certainly worth your money. Just read the challenge this organization took up: “Our Mother Earth is in danger, Humanity too! Our challenges are to reverse deforestation, reduce the illegal trafficking of species, change consciences, and contribute to fair and healthy cities. To learn more, please go HERE.

This centre is just a 40-minute walk from Purma Wasi, a low-budget hospedaje which I can totally recommend for its homey and chilled atmosphere. The rooms are spacious enough and clean, equipped with mosquito nets in the windows and I loved the juices they serve for breakfasts. The owner, Dario, and his son are very helpful and I enjoyed the company of their domesticized parrot called Arturo whose Spanish seem to be better than mine.

The good vibes of the place will make your night sleep profound. Take a night walk under the starry sky and stop by at the little bistro located across Purma Wasi where they make chicken BBQ. It is easy to buy pipas (coconut water) in Villa Autonoma. There is an old man selling them in his tiny house just across the river, a five-minute walk from Purma Wasi.

If you really like walking and do not mind walking alongside a road, take the Bello Horizonte one to see the Petroglyphs of Polish, which are about 9 km (2 hours of walk) away. You could also use the moto taxis to take you there, they will be charging in between 15 – 20 soles one way. The mysterious petroglyphs in the jungle, carved into large grey boulders that sit in the shade of some scattered trees, trigger off a lot of theories concerning their origin: some will claim they were drawn by pre-Columbian explorers, others that they are ayahuasca-induced portals to another dimension and yet others that they are the work of the Chachapoyas culture. The truth is: Nobody really knows. However, they were most probably made by the local indigenous tribes – the Pocras or Hanan Chancas – who inhabited the area and though some might have been ayahuasca-induced visions, they generally are obvious representations of local fauna including snakes and birds.


Orquidea Chocolate Factory

Peru’s chocolate is recognized worldwide; most of it comes from the tropical regions, including the region of San Martín. “Orquidea” used to be frequently visited before the Covid times by those who were eager to see the process of chocolate making – from the moment the cacao beans arrive from the fields (where they planted by the local communities, e.g. that of Chazuta, Lamas etc.) to the moment a bar comes out ready to be sold. The pandemics affected this place greatly and it is no longer possible to see the process happening inside the factory; even for the press the access is limited.

However, you can still go inside the shop to buy the bars that attract your attention.

Water, Water, Waterfalls

Tarapoto is indeed the place for those who love bathing in natural waters. There are dozens of popular waterfalls, several of them located along the same road (5N), where the first one, Ahuashiyacu Falls, is probably most well-known. To get to the cataracts take a van from El Paradero “Tren Bala Express”. The entrance to each waterfall is usually 10 soles.

On the way to the Ahuashiyacu Falls, you may want to visit Tambo Ilusion, a beautiful private nature conservation area run by a Canadian-Peruvian couple. It is indeed a wellness retreat centre which was selected as one of the top 5 yoga retreat centres of Peru by one of the most prestigious newspapers of Peru “El Comercio”. They offer 3 to 10 day programs and a rural tourism experience. You are sure to relax, enjoy delicious wholesome food, swim in the beautiful fresh water lagoon, participate in yoga classes and enjoy the lush jungle vegetation surrounding the place.

My favourite waterfall alongside the 5N “waterfall road” is Pishurayacu, which actually represents two waterfalls on the same stream and thermal baths below. You will need to hike up and down for about 30 minutes to reach the last accessible part of the Pishurayacu complex.

In the opposite direction on the 5N road you will find the Cataracts of Pucayaquillo. They are situated about a 50-minute drive away from Tarapoto and a two-hour drive from Laguna Azul (which is why many choose) to visit the cataracts when leaving Tarapoto for Laguna Azul – or when staying at Laguna Azul (there are one-day trips to the cataracts organized by the hotels at Laguna Azul or you can go on your own in a taxi – the return, 2-hour waiting included, will cost you about 100 – 120 soles per taxi.

The beautiful flora in the whole area is complemented by a rich fauna; there are large tropical butterflies (especially blue Morpho didius), hummingbirds of all kinds, toucans, Guianan cock-of-the-rock, but also various frogs, snakes, especially Bothrops atrox, one of the most dangerous poisonous snakes in South America from the family of rattlesnakes (fortunately we met only one little one, a baby, and walked off really fast understanding that the mother is probably nearby).

Laguna Azul – Laguna Sauce (Sawsiqucha) and Las Jawas Lodge

When in Tarapoto, you surely need to visit the Blue Lagoon. My article about this place and my recommendation for the best accommodation there is to be found HERE.

An overall video from Tarapoto and the surroundings is available HERE.

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